Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How I built E.L. Moore's "Bunn's Feed & Seed Plant"

I first stumbled across Model Railroader magazine back in the '70s; probably saw it while looking for comics at a local smoke shop; can't say for sure. But, what kept me purchasing over the next few years were the E.L. Moore articles on how to build a wide variety of HO scale buildings from scratch using readily available materials. I tried my hand at building a few of them; the results were mixed. The first article of his that I read - and it turns out, I liked the most - was Bunn's Feed & Seed Plant that was published in MR in August '73.

[Model Railroader cover, August 1973]

Looking back at that issue I'm astonished by the high quality articles and how technical they are. As well as Mr. Moore's article on how to build Bunn's Feed & Seed Plant from scratch was an artilcle on how to scratch build a camera (!) for taking stereo pictures, roving uncoupling ramps, and an electonic circuit for detecting trains, among other things. All the articles are detailed and not trivial.

[First page of E.L. Moore's "Bunn's Feed & Seed Plant" construction article, Model Railroader, August 1973]

Over the years I've learned that Mr. Moore published an extensive collection of articles on how to scratchbuild various types of model railroad structures from the late 1950s until his death in August 1979 at age 83. He was probably the most prolific author in this field during that era. Over the period I was paying attention to his articles, from Aug '73 to his last Model Railroader article that appeared in Sept. '79, he published around 2 or 3 articles a year in various model railroading magazines. If I can get myself organized, I'd like to devote an entire post to his structures from that period.

In the '70s I built the barn portion of Bunn's Feed & Seed in 1/32 scale, and used it as the basis for a garage scene for some similarly scaled cars. The metal sided extension was a little too complex a project for me at the time, so I didn't attempt it. However, knowing what I know now, I thought I'd go ahead and try and build Bunn's Feed & Seed as described by Mr. Moore.

The technology of scale model building has improved a lot since the days when the article was written. Today there is a vast array of highly detailed, excellent quality, readily available kits and components for sale at fairly reasonable prices. There is really no need any more to scratch build all the components that Mr. Moore did as a matter of course. So, this project was almost an exercise in retro scratch building. Only 'almost' because due to limited local availability of materials described in the 36 year-old article, some substitutions had to be made.

[I think this is the only published colour photo of Mr. Moore's model, Model Railroader, February 1980, photo by Ernest H. Rohl]

One of the things that made Mr. Moore's projects compelling to me, and I suspect to many other readers, was their use of simple and readily available materials. So, the basic ground rule of this project was to build the structure as described in the article, but if some component wasn't readily available at the local hobby or craft stores in my area, I'd substitute with something that was. With internet shopping making everything in the world literally available at one's finger tips, this is a little extreme, but I didn't want to get into exoteric subsititutions that the internet affords so I could see what I could do with locally available materials - which I think is in the spirit of an E.L. Moore project. In the end, it turned out that I made many subsititutions.

Originally I thought I'd post the construction story in one, long post. But as I worked on the project, I realized that it was going to be too long for a single post. So, I'll make a number of smaller posts over the next few days and weeks focusing on the construction of specific sub-assemblies. I guess the normal way of pursing this kind of project is to make posts as the project is in progress instead of waiting until it's done, but, frankly, I didn't know if I'd be capable of finishing, so I figured I'd build it first and then write about it. The finished model isn't perfect, but overall I was happy at how it turned out even though there are a few things I'd do differently if I were to do it again.

One of the many things I learned during this project was that Mr. Moore was a very skilled - and frugal - builder. He states in the article that this project took 2 weeks of spare time; my version took me 6: from the 1st of February until the Ides of March. I must admit that some days I only worked 10 or 15 minutes on it, on others I didn't do any work, and somedays I worked an hour or two. As well, it only cost him $US2 in 1973. I spent considerably more and I'll try and explain why along the way.

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